Infant information processing and family history of specific language impairment: converging evidence for RAP deficits from two paradigms


Address for correspondence: Naseem Choudhury, CMBN, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 197 University Avenue, Newark, New Jersey 07102, USA; e-mail:


An infant's ability to process auditory signals presented in rapid succession (i.e. rapid auditory processing abilities [RAP]) has been shown to predict differences in language outcomes in toddlers and preschool children. Early deficits in RAP abilities may serve as a behavioral marker for language-based learning disabilities. The purpose of this study is to determine if performance on infant information processing measures designed to tap RAP and global processing skills differ as a function of family history of specific language impairment (SLI) and/or the particular demand characteristics of the paradigm used. Seventeen 6- to 9-month-old infants from families with a history of specific language impairment (FH+) and 29 control infants (FH−) participated in this study. Infants’ performance on two different RAP paradigms (head-turn procedure [HT] and auditory-visual habituation/recognition memory [AVH/RM]) and on a global processing task (visual habituation/recognition memory [VH/RM]) was assessed at 6 and 9 months. Toddler language and cognitive skills were evaluated at 12 and 16 months. A number of significant group differences were seen: FH+ infants showed significantly poorer discrimination of fast rate stimuli on both RAP tasks, took longer to habituate on both habituation/recognition memory measures, and had lower novelty preference scores on the visual habituation/recognition memory task. Infants’ performance on the two RAP measures provided independent but converging contributions to outcome. Thus, different mechanisms appear to underlie performance on operantly conditioned tasks as compared to habituation/recognition memory paradigms. Further, infant RAP processing abilities predicted to 12- and 16-month language scores above and beyond family history of SLI. The results of this study provide additional support for the validity of infant RAP abilities as a behavioral marker for later language outcome. Finally, this is the first study to use a battery of infant tasks to demonstrate multi-modal processing deficits in infants at risk for SLI.